House That Jack Built colophon
Colophon from “The House That Jack Built,” by Robert Wilson Hyde, 1904

In publishing, a colophon is a brief description of a book’s production or publication details. In modern American books, the colophon has been subsumed into the copyright details, which are almost always placed on the title page verso, but European books sometimes place the colophon at the end of the book. Elder’s style was to put the copyright information on the title page verso, and the colophon after the last page of text. Today, fine press books also often follow this practice.

Yosemite Legends colophon
Colophon from “Yosemite Legends,” by Bertha Smith, 1904

The Latin word colophon comes from the Greek κολοφων meaning “summit,” or “finishing.” The term originally applied to inscriptions appended to the end of ancient Near East texts written on clay tablets. The colophon would contain such facts as the scribe, the owner, the literary contents and occasionally the reason for writing. For example, the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible contains colophons at the end of every book, noting, among other things, how many verses the book contains.

Wayfarers in Italy colophon
The earliest Elder colophon I have found so far, “Wayfarers in Italy,” by Katherine Hooker. The colophon is dated 1901, but the book’s title page reads 1902. Paul Elder has signed with the red “E”, Morgan Shepard with the red “S”

Most, but not all, Paul Elder publications after 1902 contain a colophon. The usual formula is the title, author, printer, month and date of publication. Most colophons were written out in full sentences, stylistically matching the tone and content of the book.

Since Elder’s colophons nearly always mention the printer, they are particularly useful in pinning down when each man joined and left the Tomoye Press’s employ. John Henry Nash, the most famous of Elder’s printers, left the company acrimoniously in late 1911.

Standard Upheld colophon small
Colophon of “The Standard Upheld,” by Morgan Shepard, 1902. Copy #1 of 500.


Book of Hospitalities colophon
Colophon from “A Book of Hospitalities and Record of Guests,” by Arthur Guiterman, 1910
Charity colophon small
Colophon from “Charity,” verses selected by Beulah Warner, 1911
San Francisco Purdy colophon
Colophon from “San Francisco, As It Was, As It Is, and How To See It,” by Helen Throop Purdy, 1912
Erics Book of Beasts colophon
Colophon from “Eric’s Book of Beasts,” by David Starr Jordan, 1912